Nigeria's acting president appoints advisers
Nigeria’s Acting President Goodluck Jonathan set up three new advisory committees on Monday, including one on the Niger Delta, in a further sign he is asserting his authority.
Fears of a debilitating power struggle sprang up last week in Africa’s most populous nation, a major oil exporter, when ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua returned unexpectedly from three months in a Saudi hospital still too frail to rule.
Those around Jonathan appear to have gained an upper hand over a cabal loyal to Yar’Adua, led by his wife Turai. Jonathan said he was naming a Presidential Advisory Committee to provide input on government policy.
A statement said the panel would “promote good governance in the areas of power, economy, security, infrastructure, social sector, the electoral process, and the fight against corruption, among others”. It will start work on Thursday.
The council will be headed by Theophilus Danjuma, a retired general who served as defence minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He fell out with Nigeria’s then leader, who picked Yar’Adua to succeed him in 2007.
Jonathan also approved the restructuring of a committee monitoring the volatile oil producing Niger Delta region and initiated a panel to assess ongoing government projects.
Jonathan assumed executive powers on February 9, ending months of state paralysis and allowing him to set priorities such as implementing an amnesty for rebels in the Niger Delta, restoring power supplies and preparing for elections.
But Yar’Adua’s return came just two weeks later and threatened to again put policy-making on hold in the OPEC member state of 140 million people.
Britain and the United States have both offered support to Jonathan and voiced concern at Yar’Adua’s surprise arrival.
Yar’Adua has not been seen in public since he left Nigeria in November to get treatment for a heart ailment. Presidency sources say he is in a mobile intensive care unit and Turai controls access to him.
By naming the advisory panel, Jonathan could be trying to reassure Yar’Adua’s camp that he had no plan of acting alone, said Abubakar Momoh of Lagos State University.
“What I suspect is going to happen ultimately is that the acting president is also biding his time,” said Momoh. “The (council) is a bumper, a remedial measure between the two power groups.”
Danjuma was among those who had pushed for Yar’Adua to hand power to Jonathan during the months of uncertainty.
Danjuma is a northerner so could be a candidate for vice-president if Jonathan had to take over fully from Yar’Adua, but counting against him is the fact that he is from a northern Christian minority rather than being a Muslim like Yar’Adua.
Jonathan is a Christian from the oil-producing Niger Delta and Nigeria’s top leadership positions are shared in a delicate balancing act aimed at preserving stability.
Other members of the advisory panel include Ben Nwabueze, a prominent constitutional lawyer, former Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku and retired police chief M.D. Yusuf, who led a challenge to late dictator Sani Abacha.
Business figures on the panel include Basil Omiyi, a former head of Royal Dutch Shell and industrialist Fola Adeola.